This could well be another Vidarbha in the making, where failing monsoons and the burden of debt drove scores of farmers to kill themselves.
Done in by both the rain gods and the government, 5,000 farmers of drought-prone Palamu district in Jharkhand have singed a suicide pact.
Farmers from the Chatarpur block, 170 west of Ranchi, have launched a signature campaign seeking permission to commit mass suicide.
On Monday, their plea for help reached President Partibha Patil. “We cannot lead a respectable life; we should be allowed to die in (a) respectable way,” read their letter.
This is the fourth successive year of draught in Palamu —the district has received 8.6 mm of rainfall in June as compared to the expected 154 mm — and the farmers allege that they have been deprived of the benefits of government projects.
The protests have shaken the district administration. The deputy commissioner (DC) of the district, Amitabh Kaushal, has asked the officials to get the details of the campaign.
Talking to HT, Kaushal admitted that the situation is a cause for worry.
“Paddy is grown on around 48,000 hectare of land in the district. But, till date, the farmers have been able to sow seeds on just five per cent land. The scenario with maize is even worse. It’s just about one per cent,” the DC said.
He has asked agricultural scientists to draw up a strategy to combat the situation.
The protest against the nature’s cruelty and the government’s apathy has come to the fore in Chatarpur area, but similar situation prevails in other blocks like Lesleiganj and Satbarwa. These blocks had in the past have also reportedly witnessed hunger deaths.
Gopal Singh, Vishunu Deo Singh and Mahang Saw, who have been spearheading the signature campaign, said that the memorandum would be sent to the President, chief justices of the Supreme Court and Jharkhand High Court and the Jharkhand Governor.
Janata Dal (United) legislator from Chatarpur Radha Krishna Kishore said the failure of the successive governments to address the issue of water scarcity in the area — which had been declared drought-prone by the Centre in 1974 — was responsible for the farmers’ plight.
“The area still does not have any successful irrigational networks, despite the central government initiatives,” he said.
“Even during good monsoons, the district, with the population of around 18 lakh, produces just about 70,000 metric tonne of food grains against the required 3.32 lakh metric tonne,” Kishore added.
The deputy commissioner, however, assured that necessary steps have already been taken to fight the drought. “We have stored food grains. Apart from this, there are ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) for children, old-age pensions for the aged, NREGA for working hands, etc, to fight the drought,” Kausal said. (With agency inputs)